Read Part 1 first
Read Part 2 second
Now, you can read this part...
Mr Nice Guy hung up the phone and turned to me with moist eyes. "The sheriff's department is sending someone over. They'll be over in half an hour." My husband is a sensitive guy. Not in that sort of way you think of sensitive, like, my husband gets a manicure with me and does a better job decorating than I do. He's sensitive in that he can feel someone else's pain, and he shows it. I love that about him. It's one of the main reasons I was attracted to him from the get go, and it draws me closer now than ever before. Just having to tell the sheriff's dispatcher what he had heard the girls say, made him hurt for them, and for all the people involved. Especially the family of the man who had died. My goodness... what a devastating day for a lot of people. Now it bothered him that he knew our girls were going to have to go through some uncomfortable stuff in the very near future.
I sat there with my oldest daughter and began to try to explain what was going to occur within the next hour or so. Then for some reason, and she turned to me with an especially sad look on her face and said, "Mom, he waved at us on his way past."
*BAM* It was just like someone kicked me in the gut. How could I not just break down and cry when the burdens of my children were so great that I could hardly stand to hold myself up, let alone them? Hold on Momma hen, your chickies need you to to be strong. Keep it together woman! In half an hour, we'd have people here - people who were concerned enough to put us on the "rush" list. We could let go after that. Just hold on. Matter of fact, 30 minutes was not very long at all.
Thirty minutes?? WHY didn't I clean house today like I wanted to?? Oh yeah, I was feeling like garbage, and then got this news and then... "KIDS!!" I hollered, as I choked down the need to weep, "Get in here and lets all clean up some of your stuff!!" Mr Nice Guy calls it The Flight of the Bumblebee whenever we have to do a quick dash and stash. It's not like the neighbor was coming over and we had to clear off a spot on the couch. It was a sheriff's deputy! We couldn't appear negligent - like, too many crayons or coloring books on the table or the dishes not all cleaned up or whatever. Hey, they probably took notes on whether or not there was laundry on the couch. Either way, it took up ALL of our nervous energy, so looking back it was a good thing. We got the couch presentable, we wiped down the table and I think someone even used a broom *who knew?*
"They are HERE!" Someone shouted from the bedroom. So, I nonchalantly meandered towards the door, picking up odd objects as I went along, and scooting the dried piece of macaroni under the fridge with my foot. I opened the door to concerned faces and outstretched hands. I shook each one and tried to remember the names that were said. One, two... then three strange faces in all. I saw the two cars outside and wondered what all the fuss was about. Mr Nice Guy escorted two of the men into the dining room and the third man turned and walked back outside where Princess D was playing. My oldest daughter was already seated in the dining room and they jumped right into introductions and explanations.
I sort of shook my head, and tried to figure out where I fit into all this, but it didn't make sense at first. The dining room appeared to have enough people in it, so I followed strange face number three outside. He was already leaning up against the railing in our carport with Princess D, my youngest. She was facing him, twirling her hair nervously between two fingers. She stepped from one foot to the other, and chewed on her lip. Obviously, I was needed here.
I pulled up a "chicken observation chair", which is code word for a camp chair that got left in the carport because we spend so many hours watching the baby chicks that it just makes sense. I practically pushed Princess D into the chair so she would sit down and she instantly began to relax. I kept one hand on her while strange face number three, whose name badge said "Lieutenant" and somewhere in the introduction was the word "commander" explained what was going to happen. He was going to ask her a series of questions and he wanted her to describe in vivid detail everything that she remembered from the morning. He told her that her older sister was doing the same thing, with the other gentlemen in the house, and that there were no wrong answers, but that it was really important that if she wasn't sure about something or didn't remember something, to just be honest about it.
Fortunately, our Lieutenant friend had no problems getting information out of our girl. Although still a bit nervous, she gave a specific recount of everything as she had seen it from the morning, and occasionally he would stop, his eyebrows would suddenly raise, and he'd have her repeat things so he could jot down important notes. Every question he asked was followed by a confidant answer from her. She would look up and off to the side when trying to recall things such as sounds and length of time between sounds and people coming and going and all sorts of stuff. Even I was stumped at how someone could remember all that, but then it wasn't me that had seen it.
Princess D recalled seeing a cyclist pedal by the house while they were on their way to the school bus. The kids noticed him probably as soon as he was visible to them, because they typically face to the south to watch for the bus. As kids do, they watched him pass by, and evidently he lifted his hand and waved a cheery hello. My kids got to smile at him, and he smiled at them. "What a cool guy," they thought, "some of the bike riders around here are kinda rude, and they don't pay attention to us kids, but this guy - he is nice." *Gulp* Pirate Boy recalled that he forgot his sack lunch at that moment. I'm not sure what made him realize that he had forgotten his lunch, but maybe it was the nice man waving to him. The man reminded him of his Momma, and his Momma is nice like that and waves at other kids too, and his Momma makes him lunch every day, and... oh my goodness he forgot his lunch! He took off running for the house.
As soon as the bike rider had passed the kids, he lifted an arm to signal that he was turning. He signalled. He did it with purpose, and it was clearly to keep himself out of harm, and to let others on the road know WELL ahead of time what his intentions were. This man, who we have come to know as "Ed", was a triathlete. He wasn't just an early morning enthusiast, he was a professional. He loved exercise, he loved riding his bike, and he dressed for the part. He had full bike gear, helmet, reflectors, the works. And, he knew how to signal.
Ed's arm signal was showing in plenty of time for the corner he was about to approach. Matter of fact, at one point his arm came down to grasp the handlebars, but only for a moment, and then went back UP again just as he was about to take the curve. From the opposite direction, a log truck approached the same intersection. The log truck, as my children have both stated, slowed down when coming to the intersection. Both of my daughters recall the sound of the "jake" brakes. Then, suddenly, the truck sped up - the sounds of the engine accelerating and the motion of the truck appeared to be speeding up to push itself through the corner, but at that same time, Ed was rounding the corner from the opposite direction.
It is at this point that Princess D states that she saw the bike round the corner, but she felt compelled to turn away quickly. She knew something bad was going to happen. She heard squealing noises like that of brakes. She couldn't watch.
My oldest daughter's story lines up almost perfectly with that of Princess D. Keep in mind they had very little time to corroborate their versions of what they saw, and it's almost eerie how they spoke about the same sounds and images, but with different descriptions. My older daughter, being a more experienced bike rider (she takes that same exact route to school - or should I say she DID) and she recognized the squealing as the brakes of a bicycle being applied with a lot of force.
The most fortunate thing, I believe, is the amount of vegetation at the corner of this intersection. Just as the bike and the truck turned the corner simultaneously - the shrubbery and trees blocked my childrens' view from where they were standing out by the road. Now if my son had been coming out of the carport at that time, he would have seen something horrendous. But for some reason *see part one* he had turned back to hug his mother. He and I had a bit of a rough morning. But for some reason, he was at the door hugging me, and forgiving me, and being spared the view of a man losing his life. Why God did that for us I'll never know, but I will be eternally grateful.
My daughters, who didn't actually see the point of impact (thank you Jesus) were left with an imaginary scene to paint in their minds. They saw the bike and the truck enter an area that was only fit for one at a time. My daughter thinks she may have seen the bike slip when she saw him braking, but she didn't see anything else. They did, however, hear it.
The squealing of the brakes or the metal on the road or who knows what went on for several seconds. The girls both described additional noises they heard, which quite honestly I can't even write in this space for fear of giving you the same nightmares they are having. Then, the really crazy part happened. The log truck disappeared out of sight. Cars began to pull over to the side of the road from both directions. The younger brother shows back up at the bus stop. A minute or so passes, and I have no idea what the girls were doing during that minute or two, except I do know that when I checked on them they were staring down the road in the wrong direction. The bus was coming from the other way.
When the brakes on the school bus give a sigh, the kids, now on autopilot, gathered themselves and crossed the road to get on the bus. Not knowing exactly what they had just seen, they began to worry about what they would see momentarily. The noises, the images, the worry... they sat quietly as the engine on the bus revved up and pulled forward.
Someone blocked the road, and directed the bus to continue going North, instead of turning East towards the schools. Of course, the bus slowed down, the driver was assuming she would be taking the path that the bike had just taken. This meant that all the kids on board had a slow motion recording take place in their minds as they passed the scene of the accident. My kids were no exception.
The blue towel, draped over the upper portion of the man's body just a moment before, hid features, but it did not hide the fact that the person under it was lifeless. His body was a few yards down the road, and as my son described in all his eight years of wisdom, "He was dead. We knew he was, because he was." My daughters captured more pieces of visual imagery that added to the ones already seared into their brains just minutes before. The overwhelming emotion on the bus was thick. The driver went into hysterics. She sobbed while at the same time trying to get the children to safety. This, I'm sure, didn't help the kids much. But, she did manage to drop them off, although in reverse order, at the appropriate schools.
The children were all greeted by teachers and staff, who by this time had already heard of the accident. As best they could, the staff took their kids inside and talked to them about the incident, while still worrying about whether or not their own family and friends had made it to their destinations that morning or if they were on that fateful bike ride. Nobody quite caught on that our kids had actually been there. They got several comments and pats on the head by teachers who knew they had been on the bus, but they still didn't quite get it.
The men in the dining room finished talking to my oldest, and meanwhile the Lieutenant and I were now shooting the breeze about "brands" of chickens that he'd like to raise. I'm sure we had put Princess D completely at ease by then, because she started getting a little silly. The Lieutenant and Man Number One, who was actually the Deputy Sheriff went for a walk to have a powwow. My daughter and I went inside and sat down with the rest of the family along with Man Number Two, who we shall now refer to as "Chaplain".
I did not know, until now, why a chaplain is so important during times of crisis and tragedy. Unless you've gone through it, I suppose it's hard to explain. Basically, he is there to let you know that whatever you're feeling after something traumatic happens, is normal. It may be one of 10 different reactions, but they are all normal. He helped us be able to recognize when the girls may be having problems coping, and what to do. He told us what to tell the teachers and he gave us tools to stop nightmares from recurring. He instructed us to give as many hugs as we could muster, and to give the kids ice cream for dinner if they wanted it. I was so thankful he was there. I know one of the reasons they all showed up that evening was for our kids' emotional health. I have tears of gratitude every time I think of how they hustled their little team together just to come make sure our family would be ok. Sure, they needed to know information from "witnesses" but they treated our kids like pure gold.
The chaplain must have had a really hard day too. Just a few hours before, he was standing at Ed's home, telling his wife that she had just lost her husband. Telling his four children, ages 6 to 12 that their Dad wouldn't be coming home from work that day. This made my heart ache tremendously - and to know the chaplain was giving the same care and consideration to our kids made it that much nicer to know that we'd be ok. We were all still here, no matter what we saw, or what kind of crappy day we had, it was nothing compared to what Ed's family was going through right at that moment.
We are continuing to see good things come from this. God is good. I'm also keeping an eye on the online newspapers, and read just today that Ed's wife went through with her plans to run in a marathon yesterday. She knew her husband would be watching and cheering her on. He knew the Lord, and in that, we find great peace.
I'll be posting Ed's Obituary.
Because this is healing for me too.